Art therapy project pays tribute to young illustrator who took his own life
26 May, 2017 — By Joe Cooper
Finn Clark pictured on holiday in Scotland
THE artwork of Finn Clark speak to his passions in life – music, nature, and the beauty of design – but also to the strains he laboured under.
An award-winning illustrator, his work, from beautiful sketches of birds to homages to his favourite musicians, is now his legacy. Finn, who lived with friends in Finsbury Park, took his own life aged 25, two years after being diagnosed with depression and psychosis. His body was found in a wooded area of Gillespie Park in December 2015.
Now his work is being used in a new project aimed at increasing awareness of the benefits of art therapy. The InFinnity Project will see people from across the country, with mental health issues diagnosed or not, responding to his work with art of their own, raising money for charity Rethink Mental Illness in the process. Around £5,000 has already been raised through memorials and sales of Finn’s work.
The project was launched at the Hospital Club, Covent Garden, with family, friends, experts and people with experience of mental health problems in attendance, earlier this month.
Libby Purves speaking at the launch of the InFinnity Project
Broadcaster and author Libby Purves, a long-time friend of the Clark family, spoke from experience – her son Nicholas Heiney, a writer and poet, too committed suicide as a young man.
“Finn’s work tells us a lot about a fine spirit,” she said. “The observation and imagination, the ability to do what all good artists and illustrators do – to take a line for a walk and complete its journey and let us follow it and find a kind of peace and completeness. This is a gift artists can give us. If it happens that we lose and artist early, they in some way burn out, it is a record of their spirit which they leave us.
“To contemplate the art other people have made out of their sensitivity to beauty and mystery and the spiritual marvel of life can be a very powerful bridge back to stability,” Ms Purves added.
“All good and heartfelt art, especially with an element of painstaking craft in it like Finn’s work, is like what Alan Bennett in his play, The History Boys, calls ‘a hand held out by a stranger, showing that you are never quite alone.'”
It is this message that Finn’s mother, Sarah, hopes will spread with the InFinnity Project. But, she told the Tribune before the event, another equally important message – that men must be encouraged as much as possible to talk about their mental health.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, a fact the family has long been familiar with. Writer and sailor Miles Clark, Sarah’s husband and Finn’s father, took his own life aged 32, when Finn was three years old.
Sarah, Finn and sister Georgie
“I do feel it’s important that people don’t feel shy about talking about mental health issues and that particularly boys are encouraged to talk about it and share their feelings,” Ms Clark said.
“It’s good that it’s being discussed in such a matter of fact way because it does affect everyone, even if you don’t feel it is affecting you, maybe it will affect you or someone close to you in the future.”
Though he struggled, Finn was often a happy young man. Born in Wiltshire, he loved music, played the guitar and had a large group of friends at school before going to University College Falmouth to study illustration. He moved to London but in early 2014 suffered a breakdown and moved back home. He suffered a psychotic episode, was sectioned and diagnosed with depression and psychosis.
With the help of medication he appeared to recover and moved back to the capital. Though his illness eventually got the better of him, as his uncle, journalist Bruce Clark, remembered on Friday: “Those last two difficult years also included some of the happiest times of his life.”
Finn had a girlfriend, a job at the Natural History Museum, and was even commissioned to illustrate a book by renowned children’s author Michael Morpurgo. He was, in the words of one of his flatmates, “handsome, shy, fiercely intelligent and dryly funny”.
The InFinnity Project has the backing of key figures in the art therapy world, including CEO of the British Association of Art Therapists, Dr Val Huet; Katrina Whittaker, who founded and runs Essex art and social group, and psychiatrist Dr David O’Flynn, also chair of the Adamson Collection, a major international collection of art by people who lived in European mental asylums, as they used to be known.
Rider On The Wheel, an illustration by Finn
- Finn’s illustration, Rider on the Wheel, inspired by the Nick Drake song of the same name, is the inspiration for the first ever InFinnity Project. Submissions responding to the three 2017 themes – bridges, reflections and shadows – may be made in any visual art form and should be submitted via a digital image. Works chosen by a panel of amateur and professional artists will be used to create merchandise which will be sold to raise funds for Rethink Mental Illness. Visit www.theinfinnityproject.uk for more information